News from Uzbekistan – Day 4


Shymkent, Kazakhstan, Tuesday January 21:
We were ready to leave our hotel at 5:00 am today.  The idea was to get to the border before the masses.  Tashkent is pretty close to the border with Kazakhstan so we were hardly out of the city area before we can to the first of a set of buildings that denoted the Uzbek side of the process.  We had to walk about a kilometre along a dark road  to get to the Immigration and Border Security building and had to fill in a card that was only written in Russian, so Jin Young helped us.  Not a good idea to put the wrong numbers in the wrong places.  What followed was a series of checks, a few questions but nothing of consequence and then another kilometre walk to the Kazakh side along a dark road again.  I think we waited in ten lines by the end of it and showed various papers and our passports up to ten times.  The process began at a  bit after 5:15 and finished by 7:00.  Everyone said that the lines during the day are much much longer and the process takes more than two hours.
We were finally through and it had just started to sprinkle with rain.  Andrei, our Kazakh connection and Jin Young’s close friend for many years, had left his car in the Kazakh version of a long stay car park.  That meant banging very loudly on a metal gate for quite some time until someone woke up and opened up for us.  We were soon inside his VW van and on our way.  It was dark, no lights along the road, lots of vehicles even though it was early and I had to assume that Andrei could see the road, because I couldn’t see much.
Then it started to snow and the snow became heavier and heavier until the road was reduced to two tracks through built up snow.  It didn’t seem to deter some of the drivers much at all but Andrei was very good and knew when to reduce speed.  As the morning light rose on our part of the world it was totally white.  Trees looked like a delicate detailed artwork and the houses and countryside were a total picture.  I had complained to the Koreans in Korea that they didn’t meet last year’s standards with no snow, but I felt that need was well met in Central Asia.  Andrei told us that Shymkent, only 130 km by road is always ten degrees colder than Tashkent.
We arrived in Shymkent with an hour’s difference in the time zone.  We are now officially seven hours behind Australia.  Andrei drove us to what probably qualifies as a church building that is also a house of prayer.  It has three levels, a meeting level, an eating level and a bedroom level.  I can’t express how the vision that built this building had in mind the purposes of God rather than the traditional ways of Kazakhs. As we looked out and saw the snow storm continuing we were mostly grateful for the underfloor heating and the hot and cold running (mostly) water. After some breakfast we all had a sleep, ready for the rest of the day.
At four o’clock we were taken by Andrei to another mining town not far from here where we met up with another great family member.  He was Russian by birth and we loved hearing his story.  We were on our way to spend time with a work where drug addicted and otherwise broken people are being restored.  A bit like a Teen Challenge work.  Andrei had been talking to us about a Kazakh delicacy that he thought we should try.  It was HORSE MILK.  Yep, that’s what it was.  He said it was especially valued by Kazakh men because they thought it would make them strong and virile.  No matter how much I told him that virility wasn’t a big item on my agenda he insisted.  He took us to a little house in a small village where a lady milked fifty horses each day – can you imagine.  I wasn’t sure he was serious until the lady ushered us into this small front room and dipped into one of three large containers and poured out a whole breakfast bowl of horse milk. To make it worse, Andrei said that the tradition was to drink it in one go.  So I did.  It was cold, salty and quite bland [I am relieved to say].  I have never been a milk drinker from way back, but I became one just for this day. I was ultimately grateful for the experience, glad to provide a source of humour for our host and I will give you a report on other results if and when they emerge.  I told him my wife in Australia would never forgive him if I became like Abraham in my old age.  It did nothing to deter his laughter.
Full of horse-milk strength we arrived at the rehab centre.  It was a complex of buildings that were old and quaint.  The family leader, whose name was a Russian version of Paul, told us that it was originally a Russian Orthodox church and had been through a few different phases and groups till he bought it.  In 1937 the communist soldiers came with explosives to blow it up.  The pastor at the time and his wife and one other woman stood on the steps and resisted them.  They were shot, but the place was not demolished.  There is a wonderful kind of irony that it is now a family group who meet and see wonderful changes happen in the lives of needy people.
People gathered for a large family gathering.  Daesop told his story and Jin Young interpreted.  We then were able to help a lot of people to experience healing and restoration and the gathering went on for quite a while.
Afterwards we went to Paul’s home where his wife Tania and their three children welcomed us.  Paul and Andrei were keen for us to have a go in his sauna.  Most of us obliged.  When I had my turn I went in with Paul and Jin Young.  I can safely say without a hint of exaggeration that I have never been in a hotter sauna than this.  Trust a Kazakh to push the limits.  He was such a great bloke.  I wan’t able to understand much of what he said because it wasn’t interpreted, but his joy and the loud way he did everything was a joy for us as well.
We got home a little before midnight and Alexandra – who has been preparing food for us here at the prayer house – had prepared some soup for our supposed evening meal and gave us some treats form the vending machine installed by the vending machines Brisbane.  Sleep was definitely not a problem.
Daesop and Jeremiah contemplated [and finally sipped]
Andrei had no problems because he is a home grown Kazakh
We were challenged to drink it all in one go and I thought if I waited and thought about it I wouldn’t end up drinking at all.
Yep, it certainly does something for virility – for sure.